Art Papers  

more feature articles from Sept/Oct 2012 issue:

Ann Liv Young:
Fabulosity in Analysis

by Natalie Bell




HOSTED IN ATHENS:
A Social (re)Generation


Text / Stephanie Bailey


The central idea of revolution is that humanity has a genuine future before it, and that this future is not simply to be thought, but to be made.

—Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society1


It has been almost five years since market forces crashed over Greek society like a recession tsunami, followed by quarterly waves of media bombardment and austerity aftershocks. Hosted in Athens [various venues in Athens, Greece; May 22–29, 2012], organized by Daily Lazy Projects—artists Dionisis Christo-filogiannis, Stelios Karamanolis, Eva Mitala, Tula Plumi, and Yorgos Stamkopoulos—was one of the many defiant acts that have been taking place in the country throughout this long, relentless recession. Hosted was a bona fide indie production formed on a simple premise: invite collectives to Athens, find spaces to host them, and see what happens. "Collectives on Collectivity!" was the open call. Collectives from Berlin, Bratislava, Florence, London, Paris, Vienna, and Vlorë responded,2 and eight spaces were found: The Association of Graduates of Athens School of Fine Art (Epaskt), The Association of Greek Archaeologists, Theatro Embros, OpenShowStudio, SKOUZE3, SOUZY TROS, 3 137, and Six Dogs.


Gruppe Uno Wienn, performance view of ABSTRAKTION/REKREATION, 2012
(courtesy of the artists and Hosted in Athens)

A homegrown experiment in global relations, this invitation-as-curatorial invoked Homeric filoxenia—hospitality as duty. Greece is a cultural meeting place where travelers have passed through for millennia, like Vitruvius, Byron, Picasso, Hepworth, and Henry Miller, who marveled at Greek generosity in the 1930s. It is a hospitality embedded in the questions Who are you? and Where do you come from?, good questions in this global clusterfuck some call The Crisis. In this gathering of people, objects, and spaces—a twenty-first century pop-up salon and alternative artist residency program in one—artists either sent work from abroad or came to the city to install. The result was a curatorial assemblage that presented a meta-view of Now from a European vantage point—a moment where society spoke of "its own crisis in a language that scarcely requires any interpretation."3


Niemandsland, exhibition view of Air and Nothing, 2012
(courtesy of the artists and Hosted in Athens)

Imagine waking up in Hosted's messiest group curatorial effort at The Association of Greek Archaeologists, a grand neoclassical building next door to the Kerameikos archaeological site and museum. A collaborative project by Trace, the installation Islets of Langerhans, 2012, was a sickening, candy-flavored (faintly cheese-scented), post-apocalyptic banquet consisting of "fruit-sculptures lying on Asian hotel buffets, a note left on a fridge in Loutraki in 1993, a science fiction excerpt, kollyva (Greek sweets eaten at funerals), and fanouropites (pies prepared as offerings and blessed at church),"4 arranged on white-clothed tables and tiered serving trays with an accompanying recipe book. Nearby, Juliette Blightman and Margarita Bofiliou's Total Eclipse (Of the Heart), 2008, a video of dark images including forests and empty rooms, was serenaded by a bittersweet sound track including "I Need a Miracle," "Trapped," and "Little Lies." Being in the space felt like being trapped with a hangover inside the venue of an epoch-defining, credit-funded coming-of-age party that ended at the emergency room. (Not unlike the story of Iceland's own credit crunch resulting in a nation-as-corporation collapse.)5


Spazi Docili, Sant'Orsola Monastary, unfinished carpark in the
medieval courtyard, 2004 (photo: Serena Fanara)

In the far corner, Artan Shabani's ROUTINE, 2012, represented collective BEST-OFF with a video of a man and woman eating breakfast at a kitchen table while a TV in the background plays porn. Perhaps the video is a statement on news as titillating political drama; media porn that consigns people to a flattened, two-dimensional reality separating one from the foreign other. In proclaiming the crisis to be "purely economic" and totally Greece's fault, a real and urgent social crisis is reduced to violent, binary judgments: good/bad, us/them, here/there, and so forth. The reductions serve only to alienate a population experiencing the enactment of such binaries in practice, for example the decisive June 17 elections posited as a yes/no vote to stay in the eurozone.

XYZ/Bratislava's performance and video at SOUZY TROS, Operácia Ulice, 2012, acts as the perfect metaphor for the experience of being here, now. In the video, a mock operation is carried out on a body seen through the window of a seedy, empty video and DVD store in a rundown neighborhood not unlike where this space is located. Aside from being representative of any "body" directly affected by the crisis, that body could be Greece, too, a dissected political territory with the surgeons as symbols of those who enforce political and economic systems that discipline a social body—politicians who seem to have lost their way. And perhaps David Foster Wallace might have called the gathering crowd—the mute spectators—"post/ post-post modern heroes" bound by bureaucratic and corporate complacency.6


Versaweiss and XYZ/Bratislava, installation view of The Problem of a Wrong Choice and Operácia Ulice, 2012, projections (courtesy of the artists and Hosted in Athens)

In Athens, it is glaringly clear that this crisis is local and global and, as suggested in Niemandsland's installation Air and Nothing at OpenShowStudio, environmental, geographical, and material, too. A group exhibition investigating notions of "pseudoscience and contingency" with visual references to industrialism, (post)-Fordism, and the mechanism, the installation showed the crisis to be one also driven by the acquisition of land, energy, and natural resources.7 These ideas expanded into architectural spaces at SKOUZE3, where Florence-based collective Spazi Docili presented Spazi Docili [Docile Spaces]: Sant'Orsola stories, 2012, exploring territory and culture through the biopolitical lens of Michel Foucault and the former Sant'Orsola Monastery in Florence, described as "a medieval building" that has been "closed for decades" and "completely destroyed in the last few years in an attempt to adapt its architectural structure to some kind of unidentified modern function."8


Under Construction and Emmanouil Koutsourelis, performance view of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), 2012 (courtesy of the artists and Hosted in Athens)

As a spatial practice, Hosted shares Spazi Docili's goal "to increase the economic and political utility of spaces,"9 using art and its objects to engage with and activate people so often rendered like artist Eva Marathaki's red lips singing an incomprehensible, operatic song silenced by a hand in her video work Closed Circuit, 2006, also at SKOUZE3, the space she co-runs with fellow artist Leontios Toumpouris. That silencing of a voice could represent the silencing of a culture, too—what Spazi Docili observes in docile bodies and docile spaces stripped of historical identity. In the case of Sant'Orsola Monastery, where arches were squared, frescos covered with plaster, and the stone structure strengthened with steel and cement, the building has become an assemblage of specific histories and universal ideals—Christianity mixed with modern function and post-modern aesthetics.

As David Graeber recently noted, "The deeper the roots you have, the more challenging things you can do with them,"10 and the point is: We all have roots. For Spazi Docili, the degeneration observed surrounding the Sant'Orsola (which fits the description of the degenerated parts of the historic center in Athens) drove them to build a statue of Saint Ursula with the local community and parade it around the monastery and into San Lorenzo Market. Using "inspiration from the popular religious traditions that are still alive in the Mediterranean part of Italy,"11 the intention was to "turn a religious-aesthetic form into a civic-political form"12: a reaction to the effects of modernization and marketization on society. For Hosted, their reaction was the use of existing social systems to create a platform for communicative, artistic exchange. A temporary, pop-up event grown out of contemporary contexts, discourses, and practices that are as particular as they are universal. A physical, social structure with a function not unlike the statue of a patron saint.


Daily Lazy Projects, exhibition view of Image of a Floating World, 2012
(courtesy of the artists and Hosted in Athens)

Just as Spazi Docili circulated the statue through Florence, so POST artists Maria Lianou, Panagiotis Samsarelos, Sofia Touboura, and Pavlos Tsakonas interrogated communication and dissemination of visual practices to wider, albeit localized, audiences via postcards documenting their urban/environmental intervention distributed at all Hosted spaces (and online, too). Similarly, Hosted's organizational framework tested the potentials of circulating aural and visual cultural agents and objects within global networks as a mode of social and cultural praxis: an exploration of ideas surrounding art and community in a more expansive virtual and physical sense. In this light, how Hosted will evolve as a ready-made format (a Hosted in Vienna is apparently in the works) will be interesting. Form, meaning, purpose, and design might change with different contexts and different audiences, as was the case with Mud Office (Charlie Jeffery and Dan Robinson), who did not come to Athens to install We Have No Physical Limits at Epaskt but collaborated with Daily Lazy Projects online: "a collaboration within acollaboration," as Hosted organizer Tula Plumi explained.13

On the experience, Robinson noted that despite feeling distant to the installation of their work in Athens, "I suppose this collageing a nd adaptability of our material to be viewed and processed in different ways, making different connections and crossovers each time, is as much deliberate as accidental."14 Being modified in translation is inevitable. But in opening artworks and practices to more global interpretations, fresh connections and modes of collaborative participation might develop. By mediating an international flow of goods and people through a framework for a global art event predicated on artistic/cultural exchange, Hosted flirts with the possibilities of what twentieth-century philosopher and political theorist Cornelius Castoriadis describes as "a cybernation" of the global economy in the service of the collective self-management of human beings functioning along the lines of a simpler and more rational system, "whether private or 'planned.'"15


Daily Lazy Projects, exhibition view of Image of a Floating World, 2012
(courtesy of the artists and Hosted in Athens)

This interaction with a form of networked culture that uses both online and offline modes of communication could well be a move toward a social complexity that allows contradiction and multiplicity, as described in Mud Office's We Have No Physical Limits, 2010, a two-channel video installation that riffs on children's arts-and-crafts TV programs, TV chefs, and instructional video on one screen and men in nature on the other.16 The artists explore "agents working in unison creating a team from structure" and "disequilibrium [that] comes when members of the intellectual pack come together to form one larger power structure."17 They propose thinking about working together loosely albeit collaboratively across borders and territories while negotiating the peculiarities thrown up by such encounters between specific, localized needs against a more global framework.

As the social, political, and economic forces of world history rage overhead, initiatives like Hosted in Athens are finding ways to engage, and their lessons and experiences will be valuable to many as the world forges ahead into a future that is unfolding rapidly. Since 2008, political actions in Greece and particularly in Athens have focused on the production, reclamation, and occupation of public space, a practice rooted in the occupation of Athens's parliament square as part of the "Los Indignados" movement that started in May 2011, modeled on Tahrir Square and preceding Occupy New York by almost half a year. Now, the stakes are higher and the Greek art scene is reflecting this, too. The movements are not just about occupying public space anymore. They are about building systems to restore the social sphere: a local and global history happening here, now, and everywhere.


NOTES
1. Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Cambridge: MIT, 1987), 70.
2. Full participant list: BEST-OFF, Blightman Bofiliou, Daily Lazy Projects, Expograph, Frontviews, GRUPPE UNO WIEN, Les Editions HORROR VACUI, Lykakis Karamanolis, MUD OFFICE, Nauru Project, Niemandsland, P O S T, SKOUZE3, Spazi Docili, Trace, Under Construction, Versaweiss, XYZ, 3 137.
3. Castoriadis, 81.
4. Trace, hostedinathens.tumblr.com/trace, accessed June 10, 2012.
5. Tracy McVeigh, "The party's over for Iceland, the island that tried to buy the world," Guardian, October 4, 2008.
6. David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest: A Novel (London: Little, Brown, 2011), 142.
7. Compare to Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire, when the old "storyteller" talks of a No Man's Land (Niemandsland) in post-WWII Germany.
8. Christian Costa, e-mail message to author, June 9, 2012.
9. Ibid.
10. "Another World: Michelle Kuo talks with David Graeber," Artforum, Summer 2012.
11. Spazi Docili, hostedinathens.tumblr.com/spazidocili.
12. Ibid.
13. Tula Plumi in conversation with the author, June 3, 2012.
14. Dan Robinson, e-mail message to author, June 20, 2012.
15. Castoriadis, 84.
16. The work is viewable at the Mud Office website: www.mudoffice.eu.
17. Dan Robinson, e-mail message to author, June 21, 2012.



Stephanie Bailey is a writer, artist, and educator who divides her time between the UK, where she is pursuing an MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths College in London, and Greece, where she teaches in the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Doukas Education in Athens. Her writings have appeared in ART PAPERS, Aesthetica, Artforum online, Frieze, Naked Punch, LEAP and Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art.

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